A set of commemorative U.S. Forever stamps dubbed “Sparkling Holidays” are now available for mailing holiday cards and letters—a time-honoured tradition embraced by millions annually.
Featuring classic images of Santa, four stamps and a souvenir sheet were recently issued by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). The new issues showcases classic images of Santa Claus painted by famed commercial artist Haddon Sundblom, who is credited with refining the modern image of Santa Claus. Each stamp portrays a close-up of Santa’s face. The four images featured in the booklet are details from larger paintings created by Sundblom and originally published in ads for The Coca-Cola Company for two decades in the mid-20th century.
“I have no doubt that the Sparkling Holidays stamps will quickly become favourites,” said USPS Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President Joseph Corbett. “The paintings of the rosy-cheeked, smiling, grandfatherly man in his red suit embody the very essence of Santa.”
Several 19th-century European works were instrumental in creating character traits that inspired Sundblom’s paintings, including an 1809 portrayal by author Washington Irving of the gift-bearing St. Nicholas as a sage Dutchman rather than the more common previous image of a sombre bishop.
Santa Claus, as we know him today, originated from the 1821 poem The Children’s Friend, which claimed “Santaclaus” delivered toys to good children while riding a sleigh drawn by a flying reindeer. Several years later, in the poem A Visit From St. Nicholas, the number of reindeer increased to eight and Santa was depicted as a jolly, plump elf who delivered presents Christmas Eve.
Santa’s legend is based on customs brought to America by European immigrants. St. Nicholas—the Dutch Sinterklaas—was one of Santa’s forebearers. He delivered gifts on Dec. 5, the eve of his feast day.
Beginning in 1863, Cartoonist Thomas Nast embellished Santa’s look in drawings for Harper’s Weekly magazine. He depicted Santa in all manner of guises, from a portly elfin figure to a big-bellied, white-bearded man.
In 1931, Sundblom created the first of more than 40 paintings of Santa Claus for The Coca-Cola Company’s holiday advertising campaign.
The souvenir sheet includes a semi-jumbo stamp as part of a wider scene of one of Sundblom’s paintings chosen for the Sparkling Holidays stamp booklet. In it, Santa is depicted standing by a fireplace holding a book that lists good boys and girls. Three Christmas stockings hang along a mantel decorated with greens and ornaments. Peering over his glasses, Santa reads a note among the stockings.
A quatrefoil design element surrounded by a metallic gold background encloses the scene. The use of gold metallic ink, the flow of the type, and the organic shape of the border are intended to harken back to the graphic style of the first half of the 20th century.
Art director Greg Breeding designed the souvenir sheet and the stamps.